You weren’t supposed to win.
With what little control you had, you’d stayed your hand at critical moments. Moved just a little slower than Xemnas wanted. Telegraphed every attack, hoping Roxas would be smart enough to dodge.
He’d lasted a long time. But your power had only just begun to wane, and his was exhausted. Back at the clock tower, in a monstrous armored form, you watched helplessly as Xemnas seized full control and struck down your friend. He fell, his body breaking on the flagstones. Screaming within the prison of your own mind, you saw him begin to disintegrate. Like all Nobodies. Like all the Dusks you’d slain. But there was something different this time. As Roxas’s body crumbled into scraps of shadow, something bright and shimmering left his form and spiraled into the sky… and then towards you, as if caught in a gravity well.
It was unmistakable. It was a heart.
He’d had a heart.
HE’D HAD A HEART.
Rage consumed you in the same instant that Roxas’s heart joined… yours. Your heart. You had one too. Of course you did. How could anyone have suffered as you had without a heart?
The full power of the Keyblade hero swept through your form and broke the chains on your mind. Xemnas took his leave without a single attempt to fight back, releasing the marionette strings. Free of his control, his assumptions, you folded back in on yourself and landed hard at the base of the clock tower. Where Roxas had vanished. For a instant, you were yourself again. A slim, black-haired girl. The real you. But then you were Roxas. And then, for a horrible moment, Sora again. And then… someone else? Almost Roxas, but…
You pulled your hood over your face to stop the madness. You had no face now. You didn’t deserve one. You’d just killed the only person you’d had left.
You stared into the horizon, into the perpetual sunset of this world. On your mind, and in the heart you now knew yourself to have, was vengeance. Nothing more, nothing less. But your target wasn’t the Organization. Not yet. First… Kingdom Hearts. Destroy it. Or absorb it. Maybe even become powerful enough to bring him back. To fix everything.
You extended a hand, the corridor opening to your call. You stepped through.
Powerful enemies flocked to you the moment you arrived. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow, yes? You weren’t sure if someone had said that to you or Roxas or Sora. It was all jumbled together, your memories, their memories, your current emotions, the terror and fear and hurt Roxas had felt during your duel, Sora’s constant whirlwind of feelings, the last stronger than anything you or Roxas had ever experienced.
You slew the shadows besetting you in moments, and only after did you realize you were wielding two Keyblades. And neither of them were the Kingdom Key.
In your left hand was a beacon of light, winged and starry. Your heart told you it was connected to Kairi, though your brain told you the blade was the one you’d stolen from Roxas. Kairi… the girl whose face you’d taken as your own. You supposed you should be grateful to her. Being who you are would have been so much harder if you’d only had male faces in your memory to work with. Unintentionally or not, you’d taken her features and vivid blue eyes and fused them with Sora’s darker complexion. You weren’t sure where your midnight black hair had come from. Maybe that was something unique to you, proof that despite everything you’d been your own person all along.
In your right hand was a grim weapon, trailing smoke and violet sparks. Your heart told you it had to do with Riku, the boy who… he’d been kind, in a way. But he’d pressured you to return to Sora. That talk with him… it was when everything really started to go wrong. When you began to realize that the universe didn’t want you around, that you didn’t deserve to exist. At first, you’d rejected that. You’d chosen your friends over some boy you’d only seen in memories. But as time wore on, and you began to lose control… Nobodies are resilient, but it wore you down. You weren’t sure when you gained a heart, or if you’d had one all along. Either way, your second encounter with Riku was when it had started to break, and now it lay in pieces. The razor-sharp splinters dug into your chest with every breath you took.
Your mind told you that this jagged, brutal Key was yours now. Fitting.
More shadows came after you, larger and stronger in waves, and you cut a swath through them effortlessly. You battled your way through this world that never was until you came to a plaza below a skyscraper. Not far, now.
You didn’t expect him, but he was ready for you. Or at least, for someone. The boy who blinded himself, lest he open his eyes to see only darkness.
“Xion,” said Riku. “You need to come with me.”
“After,” you growled in a voice that wasn’t your own, and shoved him aside. You took a few steps, but suddenly he was in front of you again. You blinked.
“If you go to them, to Kingdom Hearts, they’ll break you. Enslave you. They’ll have everything. And my friend will never wake up.”
“I’ll kill them all. And I don’t give a damn about your friend.”
He looked taken aback. You weren’t surprised. Last time you’d spoken, you’d been only too willing to fade away. But that was then, and this was now. You’d lost too much to give up what little you had left. If you went now, there’d be no one you cared about left to remember you.
You walked past him again, and then his voice rang out. “What about Axel?”
You stopped, your heart suddenly heavy in your chest. You were beginning to hate having a heart. “What about Axel?”
Riku’s sightless gaze burned into you. “Are you going to destroy him too?”
“…None of your business.” You didn’t know the answer to that. It hurt too much to think about Axel. He might have already been turned into a Dusk for letting you escape twice, for all you knew.
“He’s your friend. You’d kill him? Or worse, you’d force him to watch you suffer even more?”
“Shut up, Riku.” You clenched your teeth.
The Organization imposter continued. “I guess Nobodies really are heartless.”
You whirled around. “Shut,” you raised your twin Keyblades, “UP.” You brought them down, and the clang of his parry reverberated throughout the empty city. The rain began to fall harder as the two of you slashed and dodged and weaved, neither able to gain an upper hand. As ever, Riku was a match for Sora’s power.
You fought like a wild beast. When he tore one of the Keyblades from your hand- the white and golden weapon of light- you felt something inside you break. Your friend hadn’t been quite gone. There had been a little whisper in your head. You hadn’t been alone.
Now you were, and it was terrible.
Riku tossed his own Keyblade aside, and the two of you circled each other. You shook with fury, looking for the slightest opening. “I’m sorry,” the boy muttered. He didn’t seem to be speaking to you. “I know. It’s my fault. I’ll stop her. Whatever it takes. If you care about her, help me.”
How dare he? “GIVE HIM BACK!”
You lunged. Suddenly Riku was gone, and you were crossing blades with Roxas once again. He looked as miserable as you felt. When he spoke, it was Riku’s voice, but you knew it was Roxas. No one but another Nobody could sound as lifeless as that. “Xion. Please, stop.”
You let your Keyblade drop, the grey hilt slipping out of your hand. It splashed into a puddle before vanishing.
You fell to your knees and howled. It was a horrid noise, full of rage and despair. It didn’t even sound like your voice. The puppet was malfunctioning again, that’s all. Any moment now, Riku would put you out of your misery. You found it hard to care.
You looked up.
“Take it. It’s yours, isn’t it?” The question didn’t seem to be rhetorical.
You snatched the proffered Keyblade out of his hand. “No,” you hissed. “It’s his.” The whisper returned. “It belongs to Roxas.”
“It belongs with Sora. As do you.”
“…Will I be happy? With him?”
“I can’t say. I’m sorry.” And you knew he meant that.
The fight drained out of you. You didn’t care anymore. The conviction you’d felt before your battle with Roxas didn’t return. You didn’t want to disappear. But you no longer had the energy to fight the tides of fate.
“…Lead the way.”
Oh. It was her.
Naminé had been good company, in the brief time you’d known her. The pale, almost ethereal girl was the first person who had seen you, the real you, right from the beginning. She’d even known you were a puppet, a Replica, and she’d had the clear sight and the kindness to cast aside her preconceived notions and see what was really there. She had been honest, unlike so many others in your short life.
And you’d failed her.
“I’m sorry,” you croaked out, but she lifted a hand.
"It’s alright,” she said, in that oh-so-gentle voice of hers. “It wasn’t your fault. None of this was your fault, and you deserve better. But a happy ending for you, Xion, is beyond my power to give. I can grant you… something else, something we planned to use to keep Roxas occupied until I was done sorting out Sora’s memories. DiZ is working on adjusting it to suit you.”
As if summoned by his name, the bandaged man walked in. He glanced dismissively at you and Naminé. You’d only spoken to him once, but he clearly hadn’t been fond of Nobodies. And certainly not anyone impeding Sora’s recovery. You’d gotten the sense that Naminé didn’t like him very much, either, but relied on him to keep her safe while she worked on restoring the proper hero of the Keyblade. You idly wondered whether he’d care what happened to her after Sora woke up.
“DiZ is done. It’s finished throwing a tantrum, then?” he asked. You bristled, sparks of anger coming back to you. Saïx and Xemnas had called you it too. So often that you had even begun to believe it yourself. But now, as your time was running out, you at least knew who you were. Who Xion was, underneath all the tangled memories.
You were a girl, dammit. Not it, and definitely not he. Unlike everything else about your ludicrous existence, it really wasn’t that complex.
Too tired to protest, you were just going to let it be. But someone else came to your defense. “She,” said Naminé, pausing ever so slightly after the pronoun, “is ready, yes. Please, DiZ, let me handle this.”
DiZ rolled his one visible eye and sauntered off somewhere. You were too busy staring at Naminé to watch his exit. The strangest thought occurred to you: when Sora woke up, he’d better thank this girl. And, preferably, see her again once he was done gallivanting around the worlds. Frequently, too.
You shook your head to clear it. Naminé led you down the halls of the mansion, finally stopping before a strange computer. She gestured to where you should stand, and you did so without a word. She moved to the controls.
“Think of it as… a vacation.”
“A vacation,” you repeated dully. You’d had a vacation once.
“In the simulation, you’ll be… normal. A normal kid, with normal friends. You won’t remember any of this. And when Sora is ready, we’ll pull you out, and you can join him.”
You heard yourself say, “Will you be there?”
Naminé looked surprised, and then smiled her soft smile. “No. I’m sorry.”
“Could you be there?”
She bit her lip. You knew she wasn’t happy here. The way DiZ treated her wasn’t much better than the way he treated you. And even if it was just a copy of herself… shouldn’t some version of Naminé get to be happy?
Slowly, the witch of memory shook her head. “Who I am… what I am… even in data form, I’d remember everything. It wouldn’t work.” She sighed. “I wish it would. Forgetting would be easier. I’d hoped to forget about you.”
You recoiled as if struck, and her eyes went wide. For the first time, her voice came out rapid and panicked. “No, no, I meant… I didn’t…”
As you watched, tears began to bead in her eyes. You were shocked, and then you remembered. Nobodies can have hearts. Of course Naminé had one. “I remember… everything,” she choked out. “I don’t just manipulate memory, I become it. I can’t escape it. Everything you and Sora and Roxas and Riku have suffered… I know it, and I can’t forget it. Not for a second. It’s horrible of me, but I was hoping… that just once, I wouldn’t have to remember.”
“It’s okay,” you said, even though you were learning that until just now there had been some parts of your heart that hadn’t broken yet. “I’m… I’m ready.” You weren’t.
Kairi’s Nobody looked away and started typing. She had an expression of intense concentration, though you weren’t sure if it was actually needed for the task or if she was just trying to distract herself. A few seconds later, she was done, and gave you a long, sad inspection. But all she saw, you realized, was a blank hooded figure.
“Wait,” you said. Naminé paused, hand over the controls. There was one final thing you wanted to do. You really hoped it would work.
Lifting your hands, you threw back your hood. For a terrible instant, your form blurred, and then to your immeasurable relief it settled.
You were Xion. At this last moment, whether it was through your own strength or through Naminé’s belief in you, your appearance had returned to what you wanted it to be. Your striking blue eyes met Naminé’s paler ones and you managed to smile for the first time since you’d last seen her. But now you were going away. Oblivion, though a different sort than you’d been prepared for. At least you had something to look forward to this time, but the cost had been too great. Poor Roxas.
You gave the other girl a nod. Blinking away her tears, Naminé pressed the last button. You felt yourself deconstructing, your physical form being encoded and destroyed. But at least it was your form. You kept your eyes on her until they, too, vanished, and you were left floating in darkness without a body to call your own.
Your last thought was that having a heart was awful.